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Is it really time to go?

“Yeah I will be coming home next Sunday afternoon at 2.” I said to my parents during a weekly Skype call. Then as I fell asleep at night it started to hit me, in less than a week and a half I would be going home. It hadn’t really been almost three months had it?? It’s true, time flies when you are traveling alone and exploring the world, and the final days in Ecuador were no different. While there was a big part of me that was excited to return home and see my family and friends, there was an equally big part of me that would have been just fine staying in Latacunga with the kids. I hoped that the final days would pass by slowly so I could soak it all in, but of course time did not change its pace just for me. I did manage to fit about as much in as humanly possible and was fortunate to retrace my steps and see many friends I had met during the past three months.

It all started with a bus ride back to Quito where I met my host sisters for a trip to the beach! Their Uncle had told us he had a house in Manta we could stay in for free and insisted we take a trip there. I was conflicted because while I wanted to be gracious to the family and see everyone, I had really come into my element in Latacunga with the kids and staff. A day spent taking care of them was more special than laying on a beach. Ultimately, I decided to take the opportunity to see the coast and rest for a few days in order to process some of my thoughts. Again I thought we were headed for a small town on the coast, when in reality Manta was the third largest city in Ecuador. It was the first time I had seen a beach with thousands of people and I felt like I was in a movie. The air was humid, the smell was tropical, and the bus ride to get there was a full semi-sleepless night. We spent three carefree days in Manta, traveled to secluded beaches, and ate some delicious seafood! It was great to see my sisters but I was excited to stroll back through the gates of the Latacunga home.

It's safe to say these shoes got a workout during the past 3 months

It’s safe to say these shoes got a workout during the past 3 months

My final days at the orphanage included many dance parties with the children upstairs, an epic three hour walk with the kids, watching Maycol be reunited with his family, holding a one day old baby in my arms, visiting Elizabeth’s flower farm, and witnessing a Volcano erupt. So much happened and it was all so special but every time I try to put it into words, I can’t seem to do it justice. This experience abroad truly has changed me and offered me sights I never even imagined last year when I was thinking about interning abroad. Amazing how fast your life can change and how people you met only a month ago now feel like family. As well it has been very cool to intern at three different locations that forced me to build up respect and trust with my co-workers every time. The first week in Latacunga I was hardly trusted to feed a baby (even after I had been doing it for a month in Quito) yet I didn’t let this fact bother me and knew respect has to be earned. By the time I left I was handed crying babies all the time. It was oddly fitting that my last night at the home would bring about Estrellita (Little star) a baby who was born less than 24 hours ago. The Tia’s handed her to me all swaddled up in a blanket and I truly couldn’t believe how small she was. The day I was leaving that part of the world, she was just coming into it. That same night as well also featured Mt. Tunguragua erupting about 40 miles South. It made for a spectacular image and no one was hurt. Apparently this is a pretty normal occurrence and its normally just harmless ash.

Active Volcano... aint no thang

Active Volcano… aint no thang

My final morning I finished packing my clothes and cleaning my space when I realized I hadn’t given the children any warning that I would be leaving. The Tia’s all knew, but I hadn’t told the kids… Every time I went to town to buy food they would ask if I was leaving for good and I always reassured them I would be coming right back. Maybe I had been so unready to say goodbye to them that I just blocked it from my mind. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t very happy with myself. I decided I would be a little late to Quito and took a few extra moments to talk with the kids. The Tia’s woke Jose Luis up from his nap so I could say goodbye to him… I had gotten so used to seeing his little face every morning running towards me for a high five that I hadn’t truly imagined what it would be like the next morning when I didn’t see him. We went in his room and he was already sitting up in his bed smiling at me, I went over and told him a few words and let a few tears go but it was still a happy time. I don’t know how much he understood but I hope he knows I will be back to see him one day. I did the same for my loves downstairs and let myself out of the gate. I walked down the empty road through fields and tree’s to the bus stop about a mile away with my roll bag behind and my backpack loaded. Another moment where I felt like I was in a movie, one of adventure, good times, lonely times, and the most interesting people. I felt different as I stepped onto the bus and sat down, I was truly torn between home and the place I had come to love but knew in a day’s time I would be waking up in my own bed. As the bus started up a rare English song came on the radio, one by Imagine Dragons called, “Its time”. If that’s not a sign then I don’t know what it.

Wilma, Jofre, and Daniela post movie time/not ready to go to bed

Wilma, Jofre, and Daniela post movie time/not ready to go to bed

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Children; my hope for the future

Week two in Latacunga brought many events. By now I was on a first name basis with the Tia’s, had learned the routine of the house, dealt with a round of sickness, and rode the local buses like a pro and felt fully comfortable navigating the city of Latacunga. I also accomplished two things I never thought I would be able to do, get my ear pierced, and jump off of a 400 ft bridge. Yes, week two was full of adventure. The ear piercing happened as I was doing my shopping in my favorite local produce market. This thought floated in about getting my ear pierced and I set off to find a place. I soon came upon a little stand at the top of a market building and a group of ladies gathered around to watch the spectacle that was me getting my ear pierced. It cost $2 and didn’t involve sanitizing my ear prior but it happened fast and pretty painlessly. I had always wanted to pierce my ear just to experience it but always stopped myself because others told me not too. Its amazing how clearly you can think when there is no one around to tell you “no”. The following day brought the weekend and I decided I wanted to cross off another fear and jump off a bridge. I always thought people that did this were crazy but that was because I was so scared at the thought of it. I was tired however of having a fear rule my mind and set off for Banos early Saturday morning to meet my fear. I enjoy traveling solo without other gringos because it gives me the chance to practice my Spanish and meet new people. After two buses, one taxi ride. and $2.50 later, I stepped onto the bridge. Walking onto the bridge, a part of me wanted to walk away because all of a sudden this experience was becoming very real. I went to the bathroom before and got myself strapped into what I deemed to be a very safe harness. I decided I would jump right away without hesitation because I didn’t want to be one of the people who stood there scared for 5 minutes. I climbed onto the platform and looked out over the misty river below and life suddenly slowed down. I heard the guide on the bridge count 1,2,3… With each number my wit started to fail me and by 3, I had no desire left to jump, yet I leaned forward and dove off. The seconds of free fall were utter confusion and a little cursing, but the moment the rope pulled tight and I swung under the bridge, I realized two things, I was alive, and that the worst part of doing something “scary” is the time leading up to it. The actual moment wasn’t scary at all. After jumping I ate a celebratory snack of chocolate, banana, and raisins, then headed back to the kids in Latacunga.

The river below

The river below

The highlights of my week however came from the kids of course. I watched Wilma, a sweet heart of a girl, pull out a stash of crackers one night as the kids were being put to bed. Wilma is 12 and unable to walk or talk. She can make noises however and point with her arms and is incredibly smart. She motioned for me to unwrap the crackers which I did, then quickly returned to her. She struggled to pull them out but then proceeded to hand them to Jofre and Javi (two boys who share the same condition as Wilma) who happily accepted the crackers and munched them down. Wilma then shared her crackers with Daniela, Karina, myself, and finally she ate the last one. Touching. I also got to witness the true life romance of Daniela and Maycol, each age 5. They had been in the home together the past 2 years and were best friends. They laughed together, played together, and even would run away from school together in order to play on the playground together (this resulted in no t.v. for a few weeks). One night when all the kids and I were watching a movie together downstairs before bed I glanced over and realized they were holding hands. They were smitten for each other but were also the others life line in the world. It was a really sweet moment.

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Greetings Latacunga

I was sitting at the table talking with my host Mom, Martha, when the call finally came. It was Franklin, and it was time for me to travel to my third and final home in Ecuador. Unlike a month prior when I stepped foot into Martha’s house for the first time, I wasn’t nervous in the slightest to change my scenery. I have adopted the mindset that worrying about future changes is trivial; once I arrive at my new destination I will take it all in and go from there. I said goodbye to Martha for the time being and spent the next two hours driving south to Latacunga. Countryside. Thats all I saw and I loved it. Growing up in a small town in Oregon, I am most comfortable when surrounded by nature and greenery. I had a feeling I was going to really like my last month in Ecuador.

After getting lost trying to find the Childrens home and asking four different pedestrians for directions, we finally came upon the Latacunga branch of Hogar Para Sus Ninos. Unlike the house in Quito, this one stood in the middle of fields and trees much to my delight. A mansion if I have ever seen one that appeared to have been built within the last few years. The director of the home, Elizabeth, came out to greet us and showed me to my quarters. The downstairs of the house was for children age 0-18 who functioned at a high level, and the upstairs was for children/adults who were severely low functioning. Half of the upstairs was for volunteers as well complete with a huge kitchen, and maybe 20 beds. As I was the only volunteer there that meant I had my pick of room’s. It had been great to live with two different families the past two months but I was so excited to gain back some independence and have some time to myself in order to reflect on what I had seen so far.

Children's home in Latacunga

Children’s home in Latacunga

Elizabeth told me to rest for awhile and that she would give me a tour in two hours when she returned from picking up some of the children from school. Tired, I gladly jumped on the opportunity to take a nap and dozed off. I awoke three hours later and figured Elizabeth must have been busy elsewhere or didn’t want to wake me up so I got out of bed and did my own introducing. I opened the door that separated the volunteer section from the children upstairs and entered into a room of new faces. The Tia’s were pleasantly surprised I spoke decent Spanish and right away a girl named Liseth asked me to draw her a guitar. There were seven children in all upstairs from age 5-19. Thalia (5), Zacharias (16), and Veronica (19) were all wheelchair bound and largely unable to communicate any of their thoughts or desires. Jose Luis (12), Tatianna (18), Liseth (17), and Adrianna (19) were able to move on their own but each had their own special needs. These were the children who were never going to be adopted… This made me incredibly sad but I also was happy they had such a loving environment that would be with them the rest of their lives.

That night I met the children who lived downstairs, and the first thing I will always remember about that moment is a small boy spotting me and running up to me to give me a big hug. His name was Maycol and he was 5. He didn’t know me, but he knew I was there to spend time with them. There were 13 children downstairs from 1 month old to 12 years of age and did they ever have energy. I realized I was in for a workout in the weeks to come. That first week was filled with special moments, from watching Shrek with the kids to being unable to stop an older boy pushing over a baby in a highchair and being helpless (I was sitting on the couch bottle feeding another baby in my arms) to stop him from hitting the ground. I could fill 20 pages easy but the one that stands out is meeting Jose Luis. He was a boy of 12 that gets upset when he meets strangers. He was also very curious though and would come over to hold my hand and then realize he didn’t know me. This meant epic crying ensued but after two days he started to recognize my face and we would have a blast playing high five. By the end of the week he would stagger towards me as fast as he could to say hello every time he saw me. Likewise, I lit up whenever I saw him and got this really happy feeling inside. I knew then after my first week that he would be my hardest “goodbye” (I was right).

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Week 8

Just like that I have come upon my final week in Quito. Unbelievable how fast the past month has gone, I guess its true, time flies when you’re having fun! This final week was chalked full of events and plans that I feel contributed to the quick passing of time. Events like my host sisters 24th birthday where the whole family came over and prepared an outrageous amount of food. Or the night of my host fathers birthday where we met his entire side of the family in this mansion of a house and danced from 6-11 pm, ate dinner then danced till 1 am after that! The importance of a close knit family gathering is very high within the culture here and its amazing how nice it all feels. Back home my immediate family is very close, but when it comes to extended family I maybe see them twice a year. Even if life is hectic, they  make sure to carve out time to reunite with one another as much as possible. I would like to implement this practice upon my return home with my extended family but also my immediate family and friends as well. In the past there were always times where I felt certain objectives were more important than a walk with a friend or listening to how my mom’s day was. But now I have truly come to understand that so many of our “important” objectives are really what should take the backseat in life.

While I am excited to move out of the big city and live in the small rural community of Latacunga for the next month, the sadness of having to leave “my” babies at the children’s home has been pretty strong. I say “my” babies because obviously they are not my children but I truly care for them as if they were. It has been such an amazing experience and blessing to spend a bit of my time in their lives and I only wish I could give them more. Its amazing how fast attachments can develop and that their little brains recognize my face after only one month. I knew this would be the hardest part of my experience and so far I haven’t been wrong as it felt like just yesterday I was walking into the toddler room for the first time, or meeting Esteven and trying to get him to go back to sleep when he was not ready for nap time. I will never forget some of the moments I experienced here, from feeding a two month old baby a bottle in a silent room, to talking with the Tia’s about their lives and the work they do on a regular basis. I’ve experienced joy when I find out a child will be getting adopted, yet have seen the sadness in the eyes of those that remain behind, passed over once again. Another reminder that for every good thing in life, there is a bad, and vice versa. I realize that harnessing the understanding of this concept will be crucial in the years to come as I plan on working to ease and prevent hardships faced by others. Its been one thing to learn about problems facing parentless children in class but a completely different experience to see it and live with it first hand. I have grown so much the past month and cant wait to see where I stand one month down the road. One thing is for sure, I will be visiting my friends, family, and babies in North Quito again before I go home!

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The First Goodbye

Week 4 arrived much quicker than I anticipated. But it came nonetheless, and I had a great week at work. I have the routine down pat now and was given more responsibility with the children, including leading creative paint time with the 8-12 year old boys which is more of a struggle to keep a paint war from breaking out. It was amazing to set the colors down in front of them and give them free reign. They kept waiting for me to tell them what to paint and it finally sank in that they could draw whatever they wanted. At first they would start copying what their friends were painting but eventually they all morphed into their own original work. All painted beautiful works and mixed colors like pro’s though at times they got a little carried away and a whole bottle of green would be mixed with blue. I wish this was an activity they got to do more often because they got to express themselves and all were so proud of their works.

My last day was a tough one because we were at my favorite market setting and it was hard to accept I wouldn’t be returning next week to see all the fun those kids would have. From playing a tag game to playing house with the little ones, the day went by all to fast. I did have a good little challenge before I left however when I noticed in the morning that there was a girl standing off to the side by herself. She wasn’t interacting with anyone and showed no interested when the professors tried to engage her. I went over and started out slow with the usual, “Hola amiga, como estas” and was met with a very mute response. After a few minutes I had her talking however in a very shy reserved voice. Turns out she was having a bad day, she came with her two sisters but she didn’t like the girls they were playing with and therefore refused to join. I told her that was fine but there were still so many other things for her to do and got her playing in a different game. She came back in the afternoon and was still a little standoffish with everyone else but would listen to me. I got a few smiles out of her and she lit up when it came to craft time. There is something about crafts that really speaks to children because I feel it gives them the power to control and create as usually most things are dictated to children such as when and what they eat, when they play, when they sleep, etc. She ran up to me at the end of the day to show me her work of art with this big smile on her face, one that I was luckily able to capture.

The weekend brought a 5:30 am wake up call as my roommate and I headed up to Cotapaxi, a large active volcano that has done massive damage in the past. It was only an hour south or so and it magically appeared when the clouds suddenly parted. The volcano loomed large and almost cartoonish in front of us. From there we drove a ways more then started our ascent on foot up to glacier which was about 1/4th of the way to the top. It took about two hours and was very windy but luckily I had purchased some alpaca gloves for $3 right before so I stayed nice and warm. We hiked back down to the van and from there rode bikes 10 kilometers down the gravel road that was washed out in several places leaving huge ruts. This made for pretty tricky conditions riding down and it was less than 1 minute before a tourist from Iceland ate it… hard. After that I elected to stay in the back and distance myself from the main group a little. It was such a peaceful scene and I really just wanted some quiet to enjoy the view and go at my own pace. On the way down I sat on some large rocks, met some wild horse and witnessed some interesting flowers. Great choice to take my time. Upon returning home it was a night of UNO with the family and then I said my goodbyes the next afternoon. I also remembered I really dislike repacking and had a challenge fitting the same amount of clothes into my two small bags. I will miss this family a lot as we had a lot of laughs but I also will be here for two more months and will be able to visit before my time is up. Nervous to be headed to my new family and job but I know its a feeling to embrace, something exciting about the unknown.

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I am Jatun the robot, welcome to my museum

Upon coming down to Ecuador the last thing I expected was to lend my voice to a new robot led museum that is opening up in a little town outside of Quito… However, I guess I should always expect the unexpected as I brought to life the character of “Jatun” an ex cotton gin machine that guides museum visitors through exhibits. My journey to stardom started with a text from my program coordinator who asked if I would be interested in helping her brother with a “project” that required a native English speaker. I have always been intrigued by the word “project” so I naturally said yes. A few nights later I got a call in Spanish saying “We are outside your house and are here to pick you up.” Naturally I wandered outside and was met by a man named Diego (my coordinators brother), we exchanged names and then he opened the back of his work trucks doors and ushered me inside. I sat on the floor of course as the front seat was filled by Diego and a co-worker, and we chatted during our five minute drive to his house where upon arrival we bid his co-worker adieu. Then we pulled into the dark garage and he said, “I’ll let you out in just a minute” and then shut the door. At this point I was wondering what I got myself into but thankfully he was no kind of ax murderer and let me out in a few minutes.

Inside his house we went to his office space which basically reminded me of my friend Derek’s room. Had all kinds of computers and technology and felt very familiar. Then he explained how he runs an advertising and computer graphics program in Quito and dealt with some very high end clients. For example the robots that his company had put together and programmed to guide tourists through this new museum were un-real and like something you would find in Hollywood. Must have been millions of dollars. He then told me my role and how the robots needed an English option for tours consisting of English speakers. So I was relegated to a homemade sound proof booth (a small phone booth sized box composed of four foam walls) and with his lap top, I read a script I had never seen before, in a voice that had to sound like an old robot. Too easy. Not. Turns out reading a script is pretty hard and to make it a little tougher, the script had commas and periods in the wrong places to go along with randomly capitalized words. But I pushed through the mistakes and feeling of claustrophobia that exuded from my “torture room” as he called it and after two hours read a good chunk of the lines. During this, his wife made me biscuits and pudding which was very alright with me. I did return the next night to finish off one more reading which I nailed perfectly the first time! Two pages of lines and I hit it perfect, too good to be true right? Right. There was a line in the script where I had to say, “Excuse my Spanish accent, like the owners of this factory I am from Spain.” After the reading Diego said, “that was really good, but have you ever heard of the movie ‘Shrek’?” Turns out he wanted me to read it all over again but with the voice of Puss and Boots done by Antonio Banderas. Alright I said and I threw out a deeper, scratchy version of my voice that in parts had a very legitimate Spanish accent. In other parts not so much. But he was happy with it and I was free to go. He was very thankful as the exhibit was opening the next day and the President of Ecuador was to be among the first to preview it.

The next day was Friday and I went to bed all excited to go work with the kids and take them swimming. However I woke up the next morning with an extremely sore throat and a super fever, not my favorite way to start a Friday. I figured it was only a matter of time till I got sick as the previous two weeks I had been coughed on and wiped enough runny noses to last a lifetime. It finally caught me, and it wasn’t a kind sickness. Friday and Saturday were spent lying in bed going back and forth between burning hot and the chills. Sunday brought a little relief but by Sunday night the game was back on and I woke up Monday unable to go to work. As Monday progressed my fever went away but was replaced by a searing headache as well my gum hurt really bad behind my molar. I took my Ibuprofen and made an effort to go to work Tuesday because I missed the kids but soon realized I was in no shape to be there and didn’t want to get them sick so I returned home after an hour. On my trip home I managed to seriously misjudge my step onto a moving bus and fell flat on the floor upon my entry. The bus was filled to the brim and I got quite a few laughs but I laughed it off myself and dreamed of my bed the whole way home. Once I got home I investigated the pain behind my molar and discovered I had a huge cut in my gum which was causing my searing headache. I was falling apart. After a Wednesday full of a false alarm for surgery on my mouth and gargling lots of salt water, I finally made my return back to work with the kids Thursday and had an absolute blast! I was the only volunteer there so I took three of them swimming, rocked feeding time, and doled out all kinds of attention. I have one week left at this jobsite and am going to miss these kids something awful.

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Laughing kids, roses and salchipapas

(This post contains no pictures of my work as we are not allowed to take pictures of the children for privacy reasons)

The start of week two found me sanitizing a ball pit and winning over the tia’s in the children’s home very quickly. When all the kids were down for nap time I asked if there was anything else I could do and the tia’s looked at the 800 plus plastic balls that sat in the ball pit. “Por supuesto” I replied (of course). Being a public health major I am all about sanitizing frequently contacted surfaces, especially in a home for kids and with a ball pit there are all kinds of germs that can grow in there. Anyways the tia’s loved this because it saves them a lot of time. While they ate their lunch and I cleaned we chatted, by the end of our hour and a half session Jackie had invited me to her house for dinner on my last day and Alicia was going to bring me roses to give to my family for Valentines day after I asked where I could find some. Very nice ladies who work EXTREMELY hard with minimal pay, yet they truly do it for the kids and say they wouldn’t do anything else. Its amazing to watch them work and quiet a crying baby or convince a 2 year old they want to eat their pea soup. As well they have changing baby clothes down to a science, they can change 3 babies in the time it takes me to change 1, though to be fair my baby wiggled a lot.

My absolute favorite thing about kids will always be this fact; they make you forget your own troubles in an instant. On my way to work Monday I had a little life drama playing out in my head, its fair to say I wasn’t in the greatest mood. Yet, the moment I walked into that small room with my 4 baby boys and they greeted me with shrieks and hugs, everything just disappeared. Children have this way about them that fills you up with all
Artsy rose shot next to the wall art in my roomArtsy rose shot next to the wall art in my roomkind of confidence and positive energy and it evolves from you giving them your energy and attention to start with. Its an investment and even when you are tired its the easiest thing to put on a smile and tell them how smart they are, or how beautiful they look because its true. I am working in this home for only a month, and while its only a month out of their lives, these early months are so important for them. They need to be held, given affection and stimulated in order for their brains to fully develop. 80% of brain development takes place from the ages of 0-5, and without proper stimulation and care, a child’s brain will fail to function at full capacity in the future. This is my job, to help out around the tias and find the babies that need some rocking before their nap, or a room full of kids who want you to chase them around. That’s what kids need and it feels great to provide it.

I managed to sneak 25 roses into my house to surprise my family for Valentines day! 5 for each lady and 5 for me naturally. Though after Valentines day, I met an old lady named Marguerite who lives on the property and helps out around the house. She slurs her speech and I can understand about 25% of what she says but I must have made a good impression during our first encounter. Ever since she just loves me and gives me big hugs and kisses, so I gave her four of my flowers and kept one for my room.

Artsy rose shot next to the wall art in my room
I have also found a Salchipapa restaurant nearby which is basically a combination of French fries, eggs, and hot dogs. Costs $1,80 and has a bunch of calories and fat that my body could desperately use. Working with the kids all day really wears you out. I have enjoyed getting some good workouts in with Marco as well! There is an old shut down airport about 2 blocks from my house and the city has since turned it into a park. Its a beautiful escape from the city and provides hundreds of people a safe place to exercise. Marco and I usually do two laps of about 5k each and then he leads me through a bunch of his exercises. Really nice to have a work out buddy but I have also been doing a lot of my own workouts on the jungle gyms that are all over the place. I am determined to put back on a little bit of the muscle I lost prior to coming to Ecuador!! Hopefully I can return to the U.S. with minimal rib visibility… Until week 7, CHAUUU.

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New place, new age

Week 5 found me moving about an hour to the Northern part of Quito. I had become so accustomed to my old family, work, and area, but now it was time to meet some more people and learn something new. My new family consists of Marta (mom), Marco (dad), Vivi (older sister), Nicole (younger sister) and Julia, another volunteer who is from Seattle. Julia is the first person I have met from the west coast here and I have to say it is kinda refreshing to have an area of origin similar to someone else. All the other volunteers were from the east coast or Midwest. This family is really nice, active and loves to watch movies and just talk in general. I think this will be a good fit. I couldn’t start my new job until I had orientation which was on Wednesday, therefore I had Monday and Tuesday to get some laundry washed (needed to happen badly) and get a haircut. The Northern part of Quito where I am living is definitely different with regards to sense of security. There aren’t as many muggings as there are in the South and here I can walk around with a back pack and no one takes notice. Still I always know my surroundings and am aware of whats going on but it has been pretty nice to go work out in the park around dark and not have people telling me I should go inside and what not.

My 23rd birthday rolled around on Tuesday and my family threw me a sort of surprise party! It was pretty sweet of them after only knowing me two days but I feel pretty comfortable around them and they likewise as Nicole shoved my face in the cake when I blew out the candle. I did however get to return the favor the very next night as it was her 17th birthday and the honor was granted to me as a sort of revenge. I also found they love the tradition of belt whips for the age a person is turning. I received a mix of soft, medium, and pretty tough whips (mainly from Nicole and her bf Alvaro, who by the way loves Blink 182 which was a nice surprise).

Wednesday I went to my orientation at Para Sus Ninos (For his children), a Christian based home for kids that really impressed me. The facilities were spotless, maintained and there are about 4-5 children per “tia” (auntie) who take care of the kids which is great. Homes I have seen in the past had almost 15-20 children per tia. On average children stay 21 months before they are either reunited with their original family or adopted by a new one if there is no way to reunite them. It has been running for about 20 plus years now and has been a great place for children who were either abandoned or mistreated. I got to work with the kids the second part of the day and what an experience. I started with the baby house (0-2 year olds) and was placed in a room with some very little ones, the youngest being two months. There were multiple times where I found myself almost starting to tear up a little because they were just so sweet and helpless and its hard to imagine the situation where someone had to give them up or treated them poorly. Yet for whatever reason these situations happened and they are here now. Coming down to Ecuador, I wanted to experience just these types of situations and work on accepting some of these tough truths in life. In the past when a moment touches me or I am bothered by something, I tend to really think on it until it consumes me to the point where I will walk around for 3 days thinking on this problem all the time. This is something I would like to work through and being here with the kids, you cant let yourself be off in thought and consumed; you need to be present with them. Did pretty well for getting back on track my first day but am excited about improving over the next month. As I left the baby house I met two little boys, Carlitos and Emilo, who were getting ready to eat. We played a classic game of peek a boo and they loved it. To my joy when I saw them the next morning, the first thing they did was cover their eyes then try and surprise me, amazing how quickly they can remember a new face.

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The First Goodbye

The first few kids of the day

The first few kids of the day

Week 4 arrived much quicker than I anticipated. But it came nonetheless, and I had a great week at work. I have the routine down pat now and was given more responsibility with the children, including leading creative paint time with the 8-12 year old boys which is more of a struggle to keep a paint war from breaking out. It was amazing to set the colors down in front of them and give them free reign. They kept waiting for me to tell them what to paint and it finally sank in that they could draw whatever they wanted. At first they would start copying what their friends were painting but eventually they all morphed into their own original work. All painted beautiful works and mixed colors like pro’s though at times they got a little carried away and a whole bottle of green would be mixed with blue. I wish this was an activity they got to do more often because they got to express themselves and all were so proud of their works.

Math time with the older boys

Math time with the older boys

Levi with the kids at toy time

Levi with the kids at toy time

My last day was a tough one because we were at my favorite market setting and it was hard to accept I wouldn’t be returning next week to see all the fun those kids would have. From playing a tag game to playing house with the little ones, the day went by all to fast. I did have a good little challenge before I left however when I noticed in the morning that there was a girl standing off to the side by herself. She wasn’t interacting with anyone and showed no interested when the professors tried to engage her. I went over and started out slow with the usual, “Hola amiga, como estas” and was met with a very mute response. After a few minutes I had her talking however in a very shy reserved voice. Turns out she was having a bad day, she came with her two sisters but she didn’t like the girls they were playing with and therefore refused to join. I told her that was fine but there were still so many other things for her to do and got her playing in a different game. She came back in the afternoon and was still a little standoffish with everyone else but would listen to me. I got a few smiles out of her and she lit up when it came to craft time. There is something about crafts that really speaks to children because I feel it gives them the power to control and create as usually most things are dictated to children such as when and what they eat, when they play, when they sleep, etc. She ran up to me at the end of the day to show me her work of art with a little shy smile on her face, one that I was luckily able to capture.

My little friend and her lovely fold painting

My little friend and her lovely fold painting

The weekend brought a 5:30 am wake up call as my roommate and I headed up to Cotapaxi, a large active volcano that has done massive damage in the past. It was only an hour south or so and it magically appeared when the clouds suddenly parted. The volcano loomed large and almost cartoonish in front of us. From there we drove a ways more then started our ascent on foot up to glacier which was about 1/4th of the way to the top. It took about two hours and was very windy but luckily I had purchased some alpaca gloves for $3 right before so I stayed nice and warm. We hiked back down to the van and from there rode bikes 10 kilometers down the gravel road that was washed out in several places leaving huge ruts. This made for pretty tricky conditions riding down and it was less than 1 minute before a tourist from Iceland ate it… hard. After that I elected to stay in the back and distance myself from the main group a little. It was such a peaceful scene and I really just wanted some quiet to enjoy the view and go at my own pace. On the way down I sat on some large rocks, met some wild horse and witnessed some interesting flowers. Great choice to take my time. Upon returning home it was a night of UNO with the family and then I said my goodbyes the next afternoon. I also remembered I really dislike repacking and had a challenge fitting the same amount of clothes into my two small bags. I will miss this family a lot as we had a lot of laughs but I also will be here for two more months and will be able to visit before my time is up. Nervous to be headed to my new family and job but I know its a feeling to embrace, something exciting about the unknown.

Cotopaxi through the clouds

Cotopaxi through the clouds

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My family

My family

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Week 3: I meet Spider-man

The beginning of week 3 found me and 5 friends from UBECI headed to the beach for the weekend! After a long day of work Friday, I arrived home with a couple hours to pack and shower before catching an overnight bus to Guayaquil. However when I arrived home I was ushered to a surprise party for my families 4 year old nephew who lives in the apartment above us. What a blast, chocolate fruit, cake, juice, and lots of games and me dancing for the whole family, I had them laughing pretty good. Time flew by and before I knew it I had to leave for the bus station. As time was of the essence, I skipped the shower, didn’t change my clothes and threw some swim trunks and a towel in my backpack. Our bus left at 10 and after a cold, sleepless night on the bus. We arrived in Guayaquil at 6 am and through confusion and our tiredness purchased the wrong tickets to Montanita and missed the 9 am bus. We returned back to the ticket window to buy different tickets and found a line of 60 plus people and security guards around our window… Apparently everyone wanted to get to the coast. I used my Spanish and explained the mistake and a guard was nice enough to let me in the back way and I got us tickets for the 1 pm bus which we did not miss.

montanita

King of the hammock

We pulled into Montanita three hours later and were greeted by humid beach air, tan bodies, music, and dreadlocks. The little town was basically party central year round and was home to a lot of young, hip tourists from almost every country. Since we arrived so late in the day almost all the hostals were booked, however we lucked out and grabbed a random little apartment just outside of town by a minute or so. It came complete with two hammocks outside, a patio, a leaky toilet, and mosquito nets. Also the door locked behind you so if you left upon returning you had to climb through the window. My kind of place. The water was warm and the waves were big, perfect for a lot of body surfing and of course some sun burning. Night life there was pretty wild and I am thankful I outgrew my fiesta phase before coming to Ecuador. Instead I settled for some peaceful night swims, wandering through the town and getting into bed before 12. I did unfortunately lose my flip flops one morning as I went for a swim and found them

gone when I returned. Hopefully whoever has them now is putting them to good use. It was finally time to go and after a full day of riding back to Quito on the bus, I was so happy to get back to work and being with the kids.

Walking kids from the market to the UBECI area.

Walking kids from the market to the UBECI area.

My 3rd week at Ubeci included more volunteers coming and saying goodbye to Debra at the end of the week. Debra is this amazing lady from Canada who was volunteering with UBECI. She basically took on the role of everyones mom and was so caring and sweet with all the kids in the market, especially the crying babies who she was able to calm like no other. She took the above picture of me and a few of the little ones on her last day. Very cool to watch and learn from someone who has experience working in orphanages around the world and is simply a kind soul. Being the 3rd week, I recognized a majority of the kids though we still met new ones daily. One of the new ones who stands out most in my mind was “spider-man”. A little boy who loved to pretend to be spider-man and would climb on my back after lunch and pretend I was a car. While it was fun giving him a piggy back ride everywhere, the old me would have simply left it at that. But thanks to experience and practice I have learned to turn something as simple as a piggy back ride into a teaching lesson. We practiced directions, left, right, back, and forward. Every time I came to a barrier in front of me I taught him the directions and made him pick which way we went. At first we made a lot of wrong turns but after 10 minutes and a longer than normal walk back to the UBECI site, he had his directions down. Teachable moments come in almost every situation and game with the kids. From naming colors of blocks they are playing with to having them pick out shapes and animals in books.

There are sad moments in the markets as well however. One little boy, Sergio, showed up this week with huge scabs on his face. He wouldn’t say what happened but it definitely had to hurt quite a bit. I hope it did not come at the hands of an adult, but most likely as the children have a lot of time to run around unsupervised, he probably had a crash and burn moment. He is a sweet little boy but he can be quite the mischief maker, which doubles as an attempt to gain attention. His mom is 21 and works all day as a construction worker. His father is addicted to drugs and largely out of the picture. Therefore he goes to the markets each day with his mothers friend and spends a good deal of his time by himself. I learned this about him after a difficult day where he repeatedly climbed on the windows of parked cars and wouldn’t come down. A good reminder for me to maintain patience when working with these little ones as many have similar stories.

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